Whenever I get well again after being ill, I realise just how unwell I’ve been.
You’d think I’d be used to this by now, but it surprises me every time.
When I’m ill, I don’t actually believe I’m ill, not properly anyway. I dismiss my sickness as a bad case of lethargy. And then suddenly, I recover and I’m filled with energy.
Ah, I get it, I say to myself as I bound around the room and get on with all those tasks I’ve been putting off. I really was ill!
The same goes for other forms of sickness, like being emotionally unwell.
As I become more emotionally healthy, I realise just how unhealthy I’ve been in the past.
This is a tough process.
Unlike the new lease of life we get when we bounce back from a cold, it’s hard to look back over our lives and see just how unwell we’ve been – in terms of our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with others, our romantic life, work, food, alcohol, or whatever it is.
There’s grief, a sense of loss. There’s regret.
Those feelings – or the prospect of feeling that way – can be so unpleasant that we might even be tempted to remain unwell, because we don’t want to feel the pain and regret of all those wasted years.
Something similar can happen with love and intimacy.
If we’ve been single for many years or haven’t enjoyed healthy physical and emotional intimacy for a long time, it can be bittersweet to experience love, affection and intimacy because we realise what we’ve been missing. And that hurts.
We enjoy our newfound connection, yes. We’re grateful for it. But we can also feel grief, loss and regret for the past, for what could have been, for what we’ve missed.
Why have I gone so long without experiencing touch? Why have I spent so many years closed off from love?
I often wonder wistfully how it would have been to have met and fallen in love with my now husband 20 years ago. Of course, it never would have happened. Not only was I living in Mexico and he in England, but I was engaged in all manner of crazy and addictive behaviours that most likely would have put him off, while I would have found him dull because he was too kind and not dangerous enough.
But that reality doesn’t stop me from feeling regretful that we haven’t had those extra years together.
I know I’m going to feel the same way when I finally finish the book I’m writing, which is morphing from a memoir into a semi-autobiographical novel, and then get it published by a lovely publisher who does a wonderful job with the cover and edits it beautifully (she says confidently/hopefully!). And then when I write my next novel and when I publish a book of poems (yes, I’ve been writing poems recently).
I’m going to feel such joy, because I’ll have finally given myself to a craft that I’ve been dancing around since I was a little girl. I’ll have finally trusted in my imagination, creativity and ability, rather than loitering on the fringes of creative writing, being a news journalist, a features writer or the author of self-help books (as an aside, I am so proud of and grateful for my first book!).
But I’m also going to feel such regret, because I’ll be 50 (if I take my writing seriously from today) by the time I publish my novel, or perhaps even 51 or, if I procrastinate some more, 52.
My apologies to all my over-50 readers but that suddenly feels such a massive milestone, and quite a scary prospect. So it will have taken me nearly three decades, since I left university, to make my way back to the creative writing I’ve probably been longing to do since I was a child.
And that’s sad.
Perhaps my anxiety and fear about feeling such a huge sense of grief and loss about the wasted years actually stops me from writing, puts obstacles in my way in the form of endless distractions. Perhaps I’m too scared to go there. To arrive. To have a book published by a wonderful publisher and to tour the literary festivals of the world.
What a dream, and I’m smiling now as I write. What a treat. To be able to tour with my book, share my words, sit on stages with other wonderful writers.
Perhaps the thought that it is but a dream – an unattainable dream – stops me from writing too.
Because it would be so painful to try so hard and then to fail.
And, of course, it would be so scary to succeed – to taste success, which, for me, couldn’t exist without regret, grief and loss and which will no doubt be accompanied by fear of subsequent failure.
But are any of the above reasons not to try? Should we all give up on writing, on finding love or on healing our hearts because we’re going to encounter pain and regret on the way to our dreams?
Yes, it’s scary, and I can feel my heart flutter as I write this. Yes, it’s going to hurt.
Yes, it’ll be bitter.
But it will also be so sweet.
And so worth it.
So let’s not waste any more of our precious time, dancing around the deepest passions of our heart, or sitting on the sidelines of romance. Let’s get into the arena, as Theodore Roosevelt said and Brené Brown quoted so eloquently in her TED Talk:
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
And with that, I will wrap up this blog, give it a quick read and then press publish, because in the last months, since my previous post in August, I have drafted so many blogs that I haven’t finished or shared.
Thank you, as always, for reading.
And if you’d like to send some encouragement to help me to write my novel, why not post a comment, saying that you’d like to read it.
As you’ve just heard, I need all the help I can get!
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